Principal of Islamic school in Buffalo ousted over sex allegations
He may have taken student as second wife
By Mark Sommer NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: 08/27/08 2:57 PM
Mohammed Ibrahim Memon More Photos
The principal of an Islamic boarding school on Buffalo’s East Side has been forced to resign after allegations that he was sexually involved with one of his students and that he claimed to have taken her as a second wife.
Evidence suggests Mohammed Ibrahim Memon, a father of seven, persuaded Sajidah Khan, then 21, to marry under Islamic law as a pretense to sleep with her.
Memon, an Islamic scholar and imam, has agreed to leave his post at Darul-Uloom Al-Madania, 182 Sobieski St., for a minimum of seven years. The private, Islamic secondary school and institute of higher learning is located alongside Masjid Zakariya mosque in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.
Memon also agreed to never teach in the girls school again if reinstated.
Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the local chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, expressed disappointment over Memon’s “inappropriate and intimate relationship.”
“Parents have trusted their best assets, their children, to Imam Ibrahim, and he has broken that trust,” Qazi said.
Mixed views expressed
“We were betrayed,” said Chaudhary A. Khan of Woodbridge, Va., Sajidah’s father, who has sent four children to Madania.
“I want families to know these people are not following Islamic laws, they are not following American laws. They claim they are serving Islam, but they are just serving themselves,” he said.
At issue is Memon’s relationship with Sajidah Khan, now 23.
Khan says Memon proposed to her at school in August 2006, and proclaimed within days he had married her himself, under Islamic law, with two witnesses present. He also told her to keep their marriage secret.
Interviews with several Muslims reveal a mixed view on additional marriages under Islamic law. Some said it is not allowed under United States law and therefore is forbidden; others said it can be permissible under Islamic law anyway. Even so, there are several steps required for an Islamic marriage to be recognized, and the description of Khan and Memon’s marriage violates those tenets.
Memon denies marrying or engaging in physical contact with Khan. He claimed to The Buffalo News only to have listened to Khan’s problems over the telephone when he should have referred her to her father.
However, Qazi said Memon signed an agreement admitting “intimate, clandestine and highly inappropriate” relations with Khan from August 2006 to July 2008.
Memon did so at an Aug. 17 meeting organized by local Islamic leaders and Khan’s family. It was held in Johnson City, west of Binghamton, to accommodate three school donors.
Memon, a 40-year-old married father of seven who has helped run the school since 1991 with his father, the school’s founder Ismail Memon, offered oral and written apologies along with his resignation.
The agreement also calls for the appointment of an independent board to oversee the school.
Sajidah Khan, observing strict rules of separation between the sexes, was relegated to listening from the next room.
Darul-Uloom Al-Madania consists of a complex of brick buildings, along with Masjid Zakariya, a former church cathedral.
Because interaction between the sexes is forbidden under Islam until marriage, girls and boys are not allowed to be in the same classroom or have outside contact.
When girls are taught by male teachers, they must listen in another room.
Khan attended the girls secondary school through 10th grade. She continued her studies with a five-year program leading to a certificate of Islamic scholarship in 2006.
Imam denies marriage
It was in her last year of study, Khan said, that Memon sought her out. Khan says he arranged a secret meeting on Aug. 30, 2006, in the locked basement of a heating room.
Khan said the imam flirted with her, and she had to repel him when he tried to have physical contact. That day marked the first time he talked of marriage, she said.
Until that day, Khan said, she could count the social contacts she had had with males on one hand.
“In our culture, we don’t even let girls sit with their male cousins, and this guy is a teacher. Why is this man, who has said we are not even allowed to chat with a boy, doing this?” she said.
“At the same time, I’m thinking, ‘He is a teacher, he is very famous, maybe he knows something I don’t know.’ ”
Memon persisted with marriage requests. Khan says after she agreed, Memon told her he had finalized their marriage the next day, Sept. 8, in her absence.
Memon insisted she tell no one, including her parents, Khan said.
She returned home to live with her parents in a Virginia suburb, but schemed with Memon for meetings near her home and in Buffalo.
Khan said Memon was always concerned about covering his tracks so their relationship wouldn't be detected, although Memon's wife, Mariam, approved.
She was surprised to hear the educator make dismissive comments about the girls who studied at Madania, and "often said women were [on Earth] only to satisfy men."
Chaudhary Khan, Sajidah's father, said Memon eventually admitted marrying his daughter, but wouldn't send a marriage contract to confirm it. Later, the father said Ismail Memon told him his son divorced Sajidah in a ritual involving Memon family members.
The family's decision to go public occurred after two prominent Pakistan imams, Mufti Rafi Usmani and Mufti Taqi Usmani, told Sajidah Khan's brother, Ikram Haq, that the family had an obligation to speak up and inform other Muslims of what happened.
A former Madania teacher who requested anonymity said it's rare for an Islamic family to speak up in such circumstances.
"Within the Islamic community, the family has such a high status that everyone is worried about compromising one's honor and dignity. People are also afraid to give Islam a bad name, especially in the current climate."
A former Madania student, who wished to remain anonymous, also told The News she had a relationship with Memon several years ago as a student. Days after accepting his marriage proposal, she said, Memon told her he married them both in front of two witnesses she came to believe never existed.
Also, like Khan, the former student said Memon told her not to tell anyone. But she did, and soon her father removed her from the school. The woman no longer believes she was married to Memon, and is bitter toward the school and its teachings.
"When I talked to [the former student], we realized it was almost the same story for both of us," Khan said.
Khan currently attends a community college in Virginia, and plans to marry, with her parents’ blessing, in October.
Meanwhile, Memon, author of “The Book of Purification,” denies being romantically involved with Khan.
“As far as marriage and divorce, that has never been there. Not even Islamically, not even from the religious point of view,” Memon said.
Later, he said, “[Marriage] is just a term that we were using, but we were never considering it a marriage, really. Even she knows.”
Apartment in question
Asked for further explanation, he said he was at fault for not referring Khan’s phone calls to her father. “If you take the Islamic perspective out, then you would see nothing really wrong there,” Memon said.
Memon also denied being involved with renting short-term apartments Khan stayed in. However, Patti Boal, manager of Corporate Manor Apartments, 303 North St., tells a different story.
Boal says she rented apartments with monthly leases twice in 2007 and once this past February under Khan’s name. She said she saw Memon during that time “at least four or five times,” and he always paid in cash.
“I remember him saying the first time, ‘I’m renting this for my wife, and she will be here at a later date to pick up the keys,’ ” Boal said.
Memon’s signature also appears on a lease dated Jan. 6, 2008. And he listed the return address for a security deposit as 40 Parker Ave., Boal said, the address of Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque where Memon presides as imam.